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Commuters Can Be Rude Even in Greenbelt

Back to work brings my return to the world of public transportation. Where are the manners?

My relationship with public transportation goes all the way back to my first days in the working world, as a fresh out of college twenty-two year old. Thanks to WMATA, all it took was one bus and one train ride to get into the Washington, DC, neighborhood where I worked.

Back then, in my pre-children life, that hour and a half was "me time," and I filled it mostly with novels and crossword puzzles. All was good.

Years passed and my work situation changed. I began taking the University of Maryland shuttle bus to get onto campus each day, but I was still a young newlywed who traveled solo, reading or dozing away the bus rides.

Then I got pregnant.

Wow, what a difference it makes to take public transportation while gestating. Okay, maybe not for the beginning of the pregnancy, but once I got significantly into the forty weeks, bus rides began to be even less comfortable than before.

I was faced with a new dilemma on the ultra-busy days. Where it was easy to stand for a ride before, now it was increasingly challenging to attempt such a thing. But attempt it I did have to at times, because unbelievable as it was to me, there were occasions in which no one offered a gigantic pregnant woman his or her seat.

Thankfully, pregnancies don't last forever, and I was back to traveling by myself again, perhaps with a more keen eye on my own public transportation manners. A new chapter began, though, when I needed to travel regularly with my children accompanying me. If I thought busing-while-pregnant was an adventure, I had no idea what was in store for me.

For three years, my oldest son and I took the bus together on a regular basis, and I'm back to it again with my younger two these days. Just picture it — two young children, one frazzled adult, and three bags among them, all waiting to board the bus. Doesn't it just make you want to wait for the next one?

Where my oldest son and I would sit together side by side in a two-seat row, it's a little trickier with a trio. In the mornings, it's not so much an issue to find a group of seats together, but when it's time to ride home, I'm finding it extremely stressful to jockey for a seat. At the stop on campus where we meet the bus, a large group of university commuters from Greenbelt also gather, and the scene that happens in a split second when the bus approaches makes my heart race.

In the last two weeks, I've had people bump the children with bags with nary a look back or rush around us to get to the bus doors first. On one afternoon that brought my blood pressure to dangerous levels, we spent an entire ride home with both children and I standing because not one rider thought it appropriate to offer up a seat. You know, the adults clearly needed the comfort and security of that seat more than a 3 or a 5-year old.

Yeah, I'm still angry about it days later. I was so shocked and frustrated that I couldn't even form words appropriate for public broadcast to ask someone point blank for a seat. I met the eye of several folks, some even casting those aren't-they-so-cute looks in the direction of my children, with a raised eyebrow.

But my attention was primarily needed by my children who were attempting to stand and hold bars that were too tall for them to reach and for keeping all of our stuff in one tight space. Unfortunately, the traffic was awful that day, and our ride lasted much longer than it should have, which gave me forty-five minutes to simply fume and lose faith in humanity.

So this is me, shamelessly using this public forum to beg you to please consider the needs of your fellow public transportation travelers. May we all be willing to sacrifice a seat, from time to time.

Dawn may reside in Greenbelt in real life, but online she lives at her blog, my thoughts exactly, where she chatters on about her funny kids, her NPR obsession and plenty of other randomness. She can also be found at 5 Minutes for Books, reviewing everything from contemporary fiction to children's literature, and at The DC Moms, surrounded by incredibly talented local writers.

Gretchen Schock September 13, 2011 at 06:11 PM
My heart goes out to you Dawn. But clearly I think it's time for you to ask for what you want, look those people dead in the eyes, smile your sweet smile and ask. Sometimes that is all it takes.
Dawn Mooney September 13, 2011 at 06:39 PM
You're absolutely right, and now, days later, I can see that. But I tell you, on that day I was just fuming! :)
Bailey Henneberg September 13, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Hey, don't hit my kids with your bags and ram them to get on the metro — shouldn't be something you have to ask people for. I agree, ask, but seems you shouldn't have to. Apparently, Decency 101 is a class many grownup commuters missed in kindergarten.
Gretchen Schock September 13, 2011 at 07:04 PM
They are probably too busy updating their twitter/facebook status. ha! :)
Dawn Mooney September 14, 2011 at 12:47 AM
That's right, Bailey! And at the end of a long day, I'm exhausted and was just unable to find the words to say to anyone... at least not ones that I could say in front of my children!
Dawn Mooney September 14, 2011 at 12:48 AM
You know it, Gretchen! SO many electronic devices!! :)
Jen Ontiveros September 14, 2011 at 01:11 AM
I've asked people on Metro to give up their seats for my kids. When they've realized what I asked, they've had the "duh!" expression, apologized and gotten up. No biggie. I think people tend to be in their own little post-school/work worlds and oblivious to the needs of others. Is that right? Certainly not. But it may be the reality. I DID ride the shuttle to a sporting event last week (standing room only) and a college-aged student offered me his seat. I was pleasantly surprised, but declined (talk about making me feel old, though!).
Dawn Mooney September 14, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Interesting, Jen. It was clear to everyone around me, I'm pretty sure, that we were having a challenging time keeping everyone balanced, and folks continued to look right at us. One woman even expected me to step off the bus so she could exit at the back door! I told her, "Uh, you're just going to have to go to the front door, since I have nowhere to move!"
Jen Ontiveros September 14, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Hopefully my husband wasn't on that shuttle!!! (I'd feel horrible if he was in his absent-minded professor mode and wasn't paying attention.)
Dawn Mooney September 14, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Goodness no!! Your husband couldn't be THAT absent-minded! He's a papa of two kids!! :)
Pachacutec September 14, 2011 at 01:09 PM
I'm hitting the big 6-0 this year and I have arthritis. Sometimes I walk with a cane, sometimes not. I must admist, most of the time I get on the bus someone will usually offer me a seat. As for the times when the arthritis isn't bad and I DO have to stand, I admit it's difficult because I'm also very short and many of the vertical bars and front-facing seats have been eliminated from the buses. So I can sympathize with a small child having to stand.
Dawn Mooney September 14, 2011 at 05:40 PM
I'm so happy to hear that you get offered a seat, Pachacutec!!
Jennifer Donovan September 14, 2011 at 09:43 PM
I would never think to ask, but I love those suggestions! When we lived in CT and visited NYC we rode the commuter train in and the subways around town. I had more than one man offer my preschooler and I a seat, which always surprised me. The commuters on the train were much less accommodating. :(
Dawn Mooney September 15, 2011 at 01:14 AM
Isn't NYC a world of its own, Jennifer? :) A friend of mine who lives in Queens and worked in Manhattan for years chimed in on my FB page in reference to this article, and she said she could tell me stories!
Gretchen Schock September 15, 2011 at 12:19 PM
NYC is a world of it's own, I can speak from experience. And the stories I could tell you about being 9 months pregnant in August in NYC would put the people in your story not offering a seat to a small child to shame. And I was all belly...HUGE! :)
Dawn Mooney September 18, 2011 at 12:44 PM
While I can't imagine you ever as HUGE, Gretchen, I'll definitely take your word on the awful stories you could tell about public transport in NYC! :)

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